Europe moves to shield citizen's data


BRUSSELS — Lawmakers here have introduced a measure in the European Parliament that could require U.S. companies like Google and Yahoo to seek clearance from European officials before complying with U.S. warrants seeking private data.

The measure, an amendment to a broader electronic privacy law pending in Parliament, is a response to Prism, the secret spying program led by the National Security Agency that came to light in June. Europeans were outraged by the revelations that some of the biggest U.S. Internet companies, many of whose users live in Europe, were required by the U.S. authorities to share information in email, Web searches and other online data.

Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs may vote on the amendment as soon as Monday, said Jan Philipp Albrecht, the German member who is responsible for steering the legislation through the Parliament. His office later clarified that the vote could be delayed until today. Once it wins approval by the committee, Albrecht may begin negotiations on the Parliament’s behalf with European governments, which are discussing their own version of new privacy rules.

But an EU official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the vote could be further delayed if the United States intervened or if there were heavy lobbying by tech industry groups that oppose the bill.

The U.S. government successfully lobbied against a similar move by European officials two years ago. The reports about the NSA’s activities gave European privacy rights proponents new incentive to pursue the matter again.

The measure would obligate companies not based in the EU to nonetheless comply with European data protection rules if they operate in Europe. Violators could face fines of as much as 5 percent of a company’s global annual revenue.

The amendment would require companies to seek approval from a “supervisory authority” in a bloc country before transferring data on a person’s individual electronic communications, whether phone calls, emails, Web searches or social media interactions, outside the union at the request of a foreign government or court.

The broader privacy legislation has been debated for more than two years. Albrecht said he would like a final draft of the legislation to be approved by the spring and to go into effect two years later.